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Harper Rightfully Snubs the Chinese Government for Remembrance Day

11/03/2014 12:24 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST

Stephen Harper has decided to be in Ottawa for Remembrance Day. He had originally planned to blow off what is arguably the second-most meaningful Canadian holiday to attend the APEC economic leaders' meeting in Beijing Nov. 10-11. The decision to attend the ceremonies was made a week after the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo while he was guarding the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the violent rampage of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau inside Parliament Hill.

Harper has ample precedent for ignoring veterans. His Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino, has proven to be indifferent to the needs and concerns of veterans, famously showing up late for a meeting with veterans in his office. This disdain for former soldiers whose lives depended on exact timings in their careers is shocking.

Harper probably felt beholden to put visiting the Chinese over honouring our fallen because of a ruinous trade treaty he snuck through Parliament in September. This star-crossed treaty is called the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement [FIPA]. He signed it in an oily grip-and-grin with the Chinese Premier at the 2012 APEC summit in Vladiovostok. Harper slid the bill onto the order paper late in the day on Friday September 9th 2012 and had it ratified almost two years to the day late on Friday September 12, 2014.

FIPA could have been ratified in late October 2012, but it was delayed as a storm of protest erupted across Canada. CBC's Rick Mercer, never one to pass up the chance for a mighty rant, asked rhetorically if it was a scene from a James Bond movie. "Since when do Canadian prime ministers sign secret agreements with the Chinese in Russia? Was Dr. No there? Was there a naked lady painted in gold?"

MP Elizabeth May sent an energetic email in November 2012 that put the treaty into context: "for the first time in Canadian history, the Canada-China Investment Treaty will allow investors (including Chinese state-owned enterprises such as CNOOC or Sinopec), to claim damages against the Canadian government in secret, for decisions taken at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level that result in a reduction of their expectation of profits. Even decisions of Canadian courts can give rise to damages."

Financial Post columnist Diane Francis used a hockey metaphor to describe the FIPA deal in a November 2012 column; "Ottawa capitulated to China on everything. The deal ... allows only a select few to play on Team Canada on a small patch of ice in China and to be fouled, without remedies or referees. By contrast, Team China can play anywhere on Canadian ice, can appeal referee calls it dislikes and negotiate compensation for damages while in the penalty box behind closed doors."

Francis compared the government's negotiating skills to those of the British Prime Minister whose strategy of appeasement led to Hitler's Nazis running roughshod over Europe. "The Tories, backed by a naive Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a handful of big, conflicted business interests, have demonstrated the worst negotiating skills since Neville Chamberlain. International treaty expert Gus Van Harten wrote the only detailed public study of the FIPA which he shared with eight Tory MPs, including seven ministers of the Crown, in May 2014. None replied. He is "the first to admit that it is a pathetic state of affairs when a lone academic supplies the only detailed public analysis of the text of a treaty that will have important and long-lasting implications for Canada in our economic relationship with one of the world's most powerful countries."

FIPA gifts one of the Northern Gateway pipeline's strongest proponents, national oil giant Sinopec, with the right to sue the B.C. government or any sub-national organization if it moves to block the pipeline. The "super-large petroleum and petrochemical enterprise group," as its website describes Sinopec, could even demand that only Chinese workers and materials be deployed on the pipeline project. In its annual report, Sinopec dispels any and all confusion as to its status; "Sinopec is state-owned company solely invested by the State, functioning as a state-authorized investment organization in which the state holds the controlling share."

The Chinese Communist Party reigns supreme and its decisions are beyond appeal. Hardly the kind of trading partner we want to own our natural resources. And hardly the kind of hosts our prime minister should prefer to attending the first Remembrance Day after our country survived its terrible test of fire.

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China-Canada Trade Deal